Outdoor Adventures: Serendipity permeates mellow Pine Island Trail

  • Scar Ridge stands tall above the rocky east branch of the Pemigewasset River in Lincoln. The viewpoint is found along the easy Pine Island Trail in the White Mountain National Forest. MARTY BASCH / Courtesy

For the Monitor
Saturday, July 01, 2017

Serendipity is a funny thing. Last month, I grabbed the AMC White Mountain Guide with our packs as my wife Jan and I hurried to tend to some tasks in Lincoln, figuring we’d do an easy hike if time allowed.

It did, and Jan perused the trusty guide. She found the Pine Island Trail along the east branch of the Pemigewasset River from the popular Lincoln Woods trailhead on the Kancamagus Highway.

Coupled with the Pemi East Side Trail, it was a genial 3.1-mile jaunt with splendid river and mountain views, tropical storm Irene’s sinister scars seen in jumbled river trees and eroded sandy banks.

Turns out that book was the 28th edition. So I consulted the current 29th edition when we got home. It said arts of this trail along the east side of the East Branch were completely washed out by the 2011 storm, and it was closed by the U.S. Forest Service. The USFS plans to reopen the trail once work has been completed to remove flood debris and relocate the severely damaged sections.

I know it’s best to hike with current guide books, but if I hadn’t brought the 28th edition, it’s likely Jan wouldn’t have found the hike.

For more information, I contacted the USFS and Tom Giles, assistant district ranger for the White Mountain National Forest’s Pemigewasset Ranger District. He pointed me to iconic White Mountain hiker Steve Smith of Lincoln, a man I’ve respected for years since getting his excellent Ponds and Lakes of the White Mountains in the early 1990s. Writer, author, Mountain Wanderer book store owner, and co-editor of the AMC White Mountain Guide, he and his wife Carol, plus friend Dave Stinson of Newmarket, adopted and maintain the trail.

About 5 miles from the Smith home, they adopted the trail just months before Irene hit.

“Irene really did a number in there,” Smith said in a phone interview.

Before the trail was reopened, the USFS and volunteers took two weeks to reclaim it.

“Pine Island Trail was heavily damaged by flooding of the Pemigewasset River and required work throughout its length,” Giles wrote in an email. “Most of this work required reshaping of drainage features, treadway hardening – step stones and/or turn piking – in poorly drained areas, and removal of flood debris.”

By the southern end of the trail, six to eight stones were needed to cross Pine Island Brook. Two short – 75 to 150 feet – relocations were necessary about 0.3 miles from its beginning where the trail was adjacent to the river and was washed away.

“North of these relocations a longer relocation – 0.2 miles – was needed to move the trail back away from the bank that was heavily eroded and then covered with tons of flood debris,” Giles wrote.

Smith likes the moderately-used trail for a number of reasons. Not only is it close by, it’s got soft footing which he appreciates along its narrow, winding way. He enjoys the lady slippers in spring.

“I like that it’s on the quiet side of the river,” he said. “Lincoln Woods is obviously busy, but Pine Island is a nice, easy, mellow footpath along the river. It’s quite different from Lincoln Woods which is a rail bed and from the East Side Trail which is a gravel road.”

There are pleasant hardwoods and a nice red pine grove to explore. The middle part of the trail is on an island, bordered by the Pemi and Pine Island Brook which experiences high water at times.

From the Pemi’s banks, it’s possible to see infamous Owl’s Head upstream. Across the stream is Whaleback Mountain and downstream is Scar Ridge.

Maintaining Pine Island is relatively easy for the Smiths and Stinson. They do some brushing and clean the three drainages but sometimes there are blowdowns. One day Smith and Stinson, a man in his late 70s, cleared 12 fallen trees in less than a mile.

“You can see Pine Island as a loop with the East Side Trail, but I like to see it twice so I walk it both ways when I maintain it,” he said.

The wide Pemi East Side Trail – runners also like it – has some nice bridges with built-in benches.

Smith says a new Pine Island description will be in the 30th edition of AMC White Mountain Guide when it’s published later this summer.

I’ll be sure to pack it before hitting the trails.